South Koreans: Asia´s New Missionaries

Seoul Archbishop Might Go to North to Prepare Papal Visit

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ROME, MAR. 22, 2001 (ZENIT.orgFIDES).- South Korea is fast becoming a missionary powerhouse, Archbishop Nicholas Cheong of Seoul said.

On Friday, in fact, John Paul II will inaugurate, along with 20 visiting Korean bishops and apostolic administrators, a new college for Korean seminarians and priests who are studying in pontifical universities here. The event marks a milestone for the Korean Church.

In the following interview with the international agency Fides, Archbishop Cheong, who is also apostolic administrator of Pyongyang, North Korea, addresses some of the current issues of the Church´s life in the two Koreas.

–Q: What do you hope to take away from this «ad limina» visit?

–Archbishop Cheong: Above all, strength and encouragement for our mission to North Korea. We know there are Catholics in the North, but exactly how many we are not sure — 3,000 perhaps. In my diocese we have 60 priests ready to set out for the North as soon as the Pyongyang government gives the word.

–Q: We have heard there are young men in the North who want to be Catholic priests.

–Archbishop Cheong: Yes, this is true. However, for the moment it is impossible. There are no seminaries or other structures. They are not allowed to come to study in the South or in a Chinese seminary. We will see in the future.

–Q: Which countries are the main mission fields for the Church in South Korea?

–Archbishop Cheong: Mainly China, North Korea and Mongolia: These countries have cultures similar to ours. The Mongol culture, in particular, has much in common with Korean culture. With the Chinese, we share the alphabet, and this simplifies communication.

–Q: Do you already have missions in China?

–Archbishop Cheong: Not many, about 10. I know at least two of my young priests are eager to go to work in China, but if I were to make a public appeal, I am certain hundreds would come forward.

–Q: Will the policies of new U.S. President Bush hamper North/South contact?

–Archbishop Cheong: The American president´s policies do not affect our work. Our president, Kim Dae-jung, is, perhaps, a little over enthusiastic.
President Bush is very prudent.

–Q: There are rumors that you may soon visit Pyongyang to prepare for a papal visit.

–Archbishop Cheong: Yes, I have been invited, only verbally though, not on paper.

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